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Cooperative learning
O Castro British International School

Imagine if your child could only reach the goal at the expense of their peers not reaching it? It sounds like something out of the apocalypse but actuallly it is more common than we think.

Perhaps not at these levels, but in Spain, from the 1930s to the 1960s, the main problem in education was solved with a model that still prevails today in some classrooms: competitive learning. The sole objective of this model is for students to stimulate themselves until they reach their goals, without taking into account the needs and objectives of their classmates.

A model that, although it is perfect for working on the children's effort, has something that makes it imperfect: it is too selfish and encourages the idea of rivalry among peers.

As we have said, it is not common nowadays, but it is still seen when the teacher organises competitions in the classroom, as a game.

Well, back in the 1960s, and seeing the weaknesses of this educational model, David Johnson, a psychology professor, and his brother Roger Johnson created a model that turns the widespread idea that only the best survive on its head: cooperative learning.

"Cooperative learning is the didactic use of small, usually heterogeneous, groups in which students work together to achieve common goals, maximising their own learning as well as that of others", they stated in 1999 in one of the many books they would publish on this model.

The five characteristics of cooperative learning

David Johnson gave an interview to the newspaper El País a few years ago in which he stated that cooperative learning does not mean sitting a group of people in the same room and telling them that they are a group does not require them to cooperate effectively with each other. That is why, in that interview, he once again stated that for learning to be co-operative, it has to be based on five pillars developed by the Canary Islands Government:

  • Positive interdependence: in other words, that everyone in the group should be aware that individual success will not come unless everyone succeeds. "The key is to understand that individual efforts will not be for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the group," said Johnson in the aforementioned interview.
  • Face-to-face interaction: each member has to share their knowledge and resources with the others, supporting each other.
  • Individual responsibility: each person will have a role within the group and will be responsible for fulfilling part of the work assigned to them.
  • Social skills: the children should have developed social skills to understand the other pillars.
  • Group evaluation: once the goal has been achieved, the work done should be evaluated, not to throw darts at each other, but to learn from mistakes.

The benefits of cooperative learning

Since the first study on cooperative learning was carried out in 1898, many advantages associated with this educational model have been discovered. The results, almost all of which are drawn from the research of the Johnson brothers, claim that:

  • Cooperative learning achieves higher performance and greater productivity of each member: "It increases the retention of information, they have a greater capacity to develop arguments, greater motivation to continue learning after class and better strategies for problem solving", argues David Johnson to the newspaper El País.
  •  It is perfect for long-term retention and for working on intrinsic motivation.
  • It improves social relations between students, increasing team spirit (so important in the world of work around us).
  • Improves mental health

Beyond all these benefits we find a very interesting and important one. If students do not compete with each other, they do not generate as much anxiety and cope better with stress. "They will learn to work well with others, to establish and maintain positive relationships, to resolve conflicts constructively, to dialogue and negotiate, to defend their own opinions and points of view or to put themselves in the other person's place," confirms Francisco Zariquiey, author of Cooperar para Aprender (SM).